Crackdown on Opioid Prescriptions Called Another War-on-Drugs ‘Failure’

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Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Photo by Ryan Lackey via Flickr.

The federal crackdown on opioid prescriptions has led to needless deaths and threatens to exacerbate an epidemic that continues to kill thousands of Americans, warns an Arizona physician.

Comparing government efforts to limit the supply of opioids or opioid prescriptions to what he calls the “failure” of the war on drugs, Dr. Jeffrey A. Singer says the policy “only serves to drive non-medical users to heroin, with increasing numbers of non-medical users initiating their opioid abuse with that substance.”

Singer, in a policy analysis written for the right-of-center Cato Institute, calls instead for policies that emphasize “harm reduction” rather than prohibition.

“Drug prohibition has proved a failure,” he wrote. “People are dying largely because of drug prohibition.”

Jeffrey Singer

Dr. Jeffrey A. Singer

He called for policymakers to implement public health options aimed at helping substance-abusers wean themselves from dependence on drugs.

The options include medication-assisted treatment, needle-exchange programs, safe injection sites, heroin-assisted treatment, deregulation of naloxone, and even the decriminalization of marijuana—all of which he said have produced positive outcomes for substance-abusers.

“Though critics have dismissed these strategies as surrendering to addiction, jurisdictions that have attempted them have found they significantly reduce overdose deaths, the spread of infectious diseases, and even the non-medical use of dangerous drugs,” wrote Dr. Singer.

The alternative approach, largely spearheaded by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), not only undermines the legitimate use of opioid analgesics but leads “many physicians to practice in fear,” he wrote.

“Worse, it may be driving desperate pain patients to the illegal market, with all the risks that entails.”

See also: “Are Pain Doctors Wrongly Taking the Blame for the Opioid Crisis?”

Although there have been indications that the opioid epidemic has begun to wane, Dr. Singer noted that preliminary figures released in August show the opioid overdose rate increasing in 2017—mainly as a result of a 37 percent increase in deaths involving fentanyl.

Overdoses in 2017 from prescription drugs actually dropped 2 percent and overdoses from heroin dropped 4 percent over that period. But the reduced availability of common prescription drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone has been driving up the use of heroin.

In 2015, more than 33 percent of heroin addicts entering treatment initiated their non-medical opioid use with heroin, up from 8.7 percent in 2005, according to figures cited by Dr. Singer.

Dr. Singer, a Cato Institute research fellow, is the principal and founder of Valley Surgical Clinics, Ltd., the largest and oldest group private surgical practice in Arizona. According to his biography, he served as treasurer of the US Health Freedom Coalition, which lobbies against what it calls “restrictive health practices.”

To read the complete essay, please click here

Most attention on the opioid crisis has focused on its impact on Americans in the U.S. heartland.  But a Washington Post investigation says opioid overdoses have been responsible for a wave of deaths among African-Americans in the nation’s capital, in a development it says is largely ignored by local DC officials.

3 thoughts on “Crackdown on Opioid Prescriptions Called Another War-on-Drugs ‘Failure’

  1. Um…has the Cato Institute or this clinician considered the alternative course of action, namely, prevention of initiation of non-medical use of opioids and discouragement of its continuation? Of course not – this would run counter to the pro-drug positions of Cato and other “libertarian” groups, and the remaining segments of the medical community who arrogantly still hold that “Doctor knows best” when it comes to prescribing opioids. That’s worked out really well for “Big Pharma” over the last two decades, but what about the rest of us?
    Medically-supervised use of opioids should be an option for patients with severe, acute pain – but one that is conditioned on non-responsiveness to other, less problematic therapies. The implementation of regulations and dispensing guidelines on Rx opioids by state and federal agencies do not preclude their use; it merely expects prescribers to use prudence in treating patients, and being alert to the indicia of misuse and abuse.
    As for non-medical use of opioids, we should all be seeking ways to encourage SUD treatment, recovery support and (most importantly) prevention of initiation of substance use to reduce the outrageous toll opioids have taken on this nation over the past 20 years.

  2. There is assistance for those who are addicted to illicit drugs like fentynal and heroin, but NO mention of how this is hurting legitimate chronic pain patients who suffer with incurable diseases like adhesive Arachnoiditis, Tarlov Cyst Disease, and chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS/RSD).
    The “opioid crackdown” has caused these patients to be force tapered or completely cut off of their prescription opioids due to the “ILLICIT DRUG EPIDEMIC” (aka heroin and fentynal).
    Opioid prescription medications have dropped to an all time low since 2015, yet overdose deaths due to, AGAIN, illicit fentanyl and heroin have been on a steady increase.
    So again, where does this leave the CPP(chronic pain patient) who have been on a stable dose of opioids for many years now, but is being forced off these medications that have given them great relief when all other alternatives have failed?
    It leaves them alone, with NO OTHER RESOURCES, NO OPTIONS FOR HELP, other than having invasive procedures (aka, ESI’s – epidural steroid injections, which by the way are NOT approved, or regulated by the FDA or ANY state, has a BLACK BOX WARNING that says NOT TO BE USED IN OR NEAR SPINE), have failed standard treatment of care many times, until finding relief with opioids.

  3. Yes this is the crime when they force a patient which has failed back surgery which has been following the rules of taking opioid meds for 10 yrs now …they have decreased my dosage more than a half now…how do I survive this….pretty soon they will opioids off the market altogether

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